I tend to divide the things I love about Rome into two categories: there are the big things, the obvious things, like the fact that I live down the street from St. Peter’s, and that the Colosseum and Spanish Steps are just a few subway stops away. Then there are the smaller things, which are part of my daily routine in Rome: going to the outdoor market in Testaccio* on the weekend, trying out a new restaurant that’s supposed to have great amatriciana, or stopping by one of my favorite bakeries (pasticcerie) in the morning.
Ah, the pasticceria.
The bakeries in Italy have something special about them — a paradise of biscotti, cannoli, and tarts that lend themselves to various occasions. They are where you get your cappuccino and cornetto** in the morning. They can be depended on for an afternoon pick me up if you need something sweet. They are happy to provide you with a fancy cake for a birthday or any other special occasion. And they are ideal if you need to bring dessert to a dinner party, allowing you to mix and match a little tray of sweets for your guests. There are a few great pasticcerie in my neighborhood (you can read about one of them here) and I take full advantage of their many purposes as needed.
Though every pasticceria is slightly different, there tend to be certain sweets that are fixtures, and can be found in most any of them. This includes mini fruit tarts, cannoli, chewy hazelnut cookies called “brutti ma buoni” (recipe forthcoming), and the subject of today’s post, occhio di bue.
Occhio di bue (which means bulls-eye in Italian – just what the finished product looks like) are my go-to treat for an indulgent breakfast or snack in Rome. They are quite simple – just crunchy sweet pasta frolla*** that sandwiches a generous amount of Nutella – but this is precisely why they are so good. After all, you can’t really go wrong when Nutella, cookies, and a dusting of powdered sugar is involved, right?
Since this type of cookie seems to be hard to come by in the U.S, I wanted to provide you all with a recipe so you can have your own Italian pasticceria experience at home. Note that you can also use your favorite jam as a filling for these instead of Nutella – apricot jam is the most common jam used in these cookies in Italy.
Occhio di bue
2 3/4 cups flour
10 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 whole egg
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
Water, if needed
Nutella, or your favorite jam
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt and butter and mix at low speed using electric beaters until the butter breaks in to small pieces – alternatively, you can also mix in the butter using your fingers until it is broken in to small pieces and well incorporated in to the flour and sugar mixture.
In a separate bowl, combine the egg, egg yolks, and vanilla, and lightly beat with a fork. Add to the flour mixture and stir everything together with a wooden spoon until a dough begins to form. Depending on the size of the eggs you use, you may find that the dough seems too dry (this is almost always the case for me when I make these). If your dough seems too crumbly for cookie dough, add some water 1 tablespoon at a time until it becomes smooth and you can form a ball with the dough. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for a few minutes. Wrap the dough in parchment paper and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Lightly grease a baking sheet. On the same work surface using a rolling pin (do add a little more flour to both the work surface and a dusting to the rolling pin to prevent sticking) roll out the cookie dough until it is 1/4 inch thick. Use a large cookie cutter, about 2 ½ inches wide in diameter, to cut out 28-32 circles from the dough. Next, use a smaller cookie cutter, about 1 inch in diameter, to cut the center out of half of the circles of dough (these will be the tops of the cookies). You can either use the little circles that you cut out to form another ball of dough to be rolled in to more cookie tops and bottoms, or you can bake them and make miniature sandwich cookies later on.
Transfer the cookie bottoms and tops to the prepared baking sheet and bake them for 10-12 minutes on a lightly greased baking sheet. The cookies are done when they no longer feel dough-y and are lightly browned on the bottom.
Let the cookies cool completely. Dust the cookie tops with powdered sugar. Fill the solid circles with either jam or Nutella and sandwich with a cookie top to form the occhio di bue. Makes 14-16 cookies, depending on how big the cookie cutter you use is.
*Historically, Testaccio was one of Rome’s working class neighborhoods, but has since transformed into a neighborhood well known for its restaurants and nightlife.
**Cornetti are an Italian pastry very similar to the French croissant, but sweeter and made with less butter. A cornetto paired with a coffee or a cappuccino is the typical Italian breakfast. Cornetti can be semplici (plain) or filled with jam, Nutella, cream. There are also cornetti integrali which are made with wheat flour and filled with honey.
***Pasta frolla is the basic pastry dough used in Italian cuisine. It can be used as it is here to make cookies, or with slightly altered quantities can also be used to make dough for a tart or pie.